With delight, the United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries received word yesterday that the Reverend Virginia Kreyer will be awarded high recognition as an ordained woman in the denomination.
With equal delight, the spirited foremother of the UCC DM responded in a late afternoon phone visit, “I’m coming. Tell them I am coming to Synod.”
“Virginia’s pioneering and trailblazing ministry must be seen within the context of her being born with cerebral palsy, which was manifested in her motor skills and severe speech difficulties,” said Gay McCormick, UCC DM representative to the Office of General Ministry.
“In addition to beginning the UCC DM, Virginia is a role model and a prophet,” McCormick said. “To know the importance of her qualities it is necessary to understand that she required years of physical and occupational therapy as well as extensive speech therapy, and, that as a child, she was perceived as mentally retarded because of her speech.”
Virginia’s mother was pivotal in how Virginia became who she is. She never allowed her daughter to use her disability as an excuse. Believing that a disability is not something you hide, she imbued Virginia with her quality of dogged persistence.
“In Virginia’s high school and college days she had felt God’s call to work in the church. It was a call to make this world a better place in which to live, but ‘Who would ordain a “handicapped” woman?'” the writer of her nominating letter said.
A year after Virginia graduated from college she became a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York, but not before her first application for admission was rejected. With the assistance of clergy and Union faculty who supported her, she was admitted as a full time B.D. (now M.Div.) student.
Her speech difficulties were a problem. The professor of preaching at first saw no reason that she should take his course. Finally he relented and at the end of the course told Virginia, “You are a good preacher.” While at Union she received the unmistakable message God was saying to her, “Stop questioning your call to ordination,” and so she did.
After her graduation from Union Theological Seminary she was ordained (in another denomination) in 1952. She then found employment at the Nassau County (NY) Cerebral Palsy Center. Her hope of being a chaplain to the clients and their families was not the intent of the Center. It had employed her to be a role model of what a person with CP can accomplish. Virginia was not at all satisfied just to be a role model and, as a consequence, started a Masters degree program in social work, receiving her degree in 1960. She became a staff social worker at the Center, working there until 1984.
In 1967 she began attending Garden City Community Church, a UCC congregation, becoming a UCC member in 1971. Then she began a long process of being ordained in the UCC. She suggested to the Association Committee on Ordination and Standing the beginning of a committee for persons with disabilities called handicapped / physically challenged. She became the chairperson of the new committee.
Over the next five years that committee tried to get the UCC in New York involved in this advocacy work. Nothing happened until a committee member suggested writing a resolution on persons with disabilities and presenting it to the New York Conference meeting in 1976.
The resolution was passed and the next year was taken to General Synod. This resolution, that the national church begin work with persons with disabilities, was passed but not before Virginia had to speak very persuasively, first, before a Synod committee and then, secondly, address the whole body of the 1977 General Synod. She spoke of how Jesus spent his ministry teaching, preaching and healing, incorporating all three in his ministry.
In response, not only did General Synod pass the resolution, but ministry to and with persons with disabilities became one of that Synod’s top priorities. The persons with disabilities resolution was assigned to the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (UCBHM), Division of Health and Welfare to be carried out.
The previously mentioned 1977 resolution opened up a one day a week consulting position. The position was offered to Virginia and she accepted with vigor, though it took awhile to negotiate this change with the Department of Social Services at the United Cerebral Palsy Center. With Virginia as the Consultant for persons with disabilities, she worked with churches struggling to educate them about the needs of persons with disabilities, particularly focusing on what they should be doing to make their church buildings accessible and welcoming to all including persons with disabilities.
A questionnaire was developed and mailed to all churches in the United Church of Christ. The response showed that fewer than 10% of our churches were physically accessible and in some cases they, too, had problems. She traveled over the country preaching, teaching, and giving workshops to help people understand the how and the why of welcoming persons with disabilities.
Due to Virginia’s dedicated, persistent work, additional resolutions were passed affirming full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the church in the next three General Synods. At General Synod 14, accessible churches were recognized. At GS16 a resolution was passed which advocated for the (a) full participation of persons with disabilities in the life of the church and in society and (b) directed the Pension Board to develop insurance coverage for employees at the time of onset of a disability. All were significant changes, changes attributable to Virginia’s leadership. Texts of all UCC Disabilities Ministries and Mental Illness Ministries can be found on www.uccdm.org.
In 1991 she attended the Consultation on the Disabled in preparation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and then served as a UCC delegate to the World Council, working on issues of disability rights. She continued her advocacy work until 1995 when she retired.
Also, at this time, she became a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) Committee of the Disabled, and then a member of the Board of Directors, 1977-1995. Committed to advocating for persons with disabilities in the National Councl, she was a highly effective advocate.
Concurrently, Virginia was asked to serve as a representative of and for persons with disabilities in 1979 in what became the UCC Coordinating Center for Women. She frequently led the Holy Communion service for the agency.
Virginia lived in Garden City, NY, and was a member of Garden City Community Church, her home throughout all her years of service to the UCC and persons with disabilities. In 2002 she moved to a Williamsburg, VA, retirement community where she now lives.